|Tomatoes transplanted into the garden in March|
Davis' heavy clay soil can be a pain in the garden, but the tomatoes sure seem to like it, which is why acres and acres of them are grown commercially on the outskirts of town. The question isn't whether I'll plant tomatoes in my garden, but when, and to answer that question I take a cue from Terra Firma Farm in Winters. Terra Firma starts planting tomatoes in the middle of March, when there is still a chance of frost. Mind, they don't plant all their tomatoes that early, but they do risk at least one early planting, and so do I.
Don Shor of Redwood Barn Nursery disagrees and says that tomatoes planted too early "sulk and don't grow." I'm sure he must have had that happen or he wouldn't feel strongly about it, but in this little corner of Davis I've had the exact opposite experience.
|Tomato plants already 5 feet tall|
For example, last summer was unusually cool and most people in town had trouble harvesting many ripe tomatoes, especially if--like me--they planted mostly heirlooms, which can take longer to mature. I started tomatoes from saved seed in January and put over 30 plants in the ground in the spring of 2011. Would you like to guess which plants were the only ones to produce a meaningful crop? You got it: the four I planted on March 15th. The rest of them--put in the ground in late April and May--produced about a colander or two full of tomatoes, total (with the exception of the cherry tomatoes, but those are always early and bountiful producers.)
So, I'm willing to take a chance on March-planted tomatoes in Davis, especially when I've grown the seedlings myself for almost no cost, and when I have another 25 seedlings stashed away in the greenhouse ready to take their place if we have a late frost and the first bunch dies. So far, the gamble has paid off.
|Cherry tomatoes will start to ripen soon|
This is now the second year in a row that my March-planted tomatoes are looking fantastic as we approach June. Yes, I might get burned one year if Davis gets a late freeze, but as long as I consider them a gamble in the first place, I won't be upset if I lose. If you're going to try planting tomatoes early next year, I'd suggest starting with just a few; then if we get an unexpected hard freeze, you won't have lost a large investment of time or money. (Of course, if you garden in a climate significantly different than ours in Davis, this advice on timing probably doesn't apply.)
And just to be clear that I wasn't on the ball with all of my tomatoes...
|Roma planted a few days ago|
|This guy flopped over before I could get a cage around it|
|Still in the greenhouse|
Are your tomatoes in the ground yet? (It's not too late to try planting some!) Does planting tomatoes in March sound crazy to you?